On a trip to the mall late last year, as I got to the checkout kiosk to pay for the clothes I had just bought, I realised I didn't have my wallet on me. Forced to make the walk back to where I had parked, I envied people living in countries that have had the option to pay with their phones for a few years, and wondered when I would be able to have that luxury too.
Well, that day has come. Samsung Pay launched officially in India on Wednesday, allowing you to simply make payments with your phone - as long as it’s one of six Galaxy devices, including the Galaxy S7, and Galaxy Note 5. If you have one, then all you need to do is get the app, and enter your card details on first run (assuming your account is with one of the supported banks, such as HDFC and ICICI). Voilà! Who knew the future would be so easy?
Of course, India isn’t the only region to get Samsung’s mobile pay service. Samsung Pay launched in Korea in late 2015, before moving to the US a month later. Since then, Samsung Pay has expanded to the likes of Australia, Brazil, China, and Russia. It’s a tiny market right now, overall, but there’s growing competition from all sides, mostly Apple Pay and Android Pay, at least in markets outside India.
Samsung Pay been here slightly longer for more enterprising people, thanks to an early access programme Samsung made available earlier this month. I've tried the beta several times during those weeks, and it's worked flawlessly so far. To be honest, I have had reservations every time I stepped up to the head of the queue, but the only issue has been the curious/ puzzled faces of the people behind the counter.
It is also really easy to use, too. Like Apple Pay, it’s accessible from the lock-screen. Simply swipe from the bottom, and then swipe left or right to pick the desired one. It remembers what you used last time around, so if you frequently make payments with the same card, you’re good to go with one swipe. Then, align your phone’s back with the card reader, and authenticate using your fingerprint/ PIN combination.
Now if I find myself having forgotten my wallet again, all I’d have to do is get my phone out, and I’d have all my cards with me. Soon, the Gear S3 will have it as well, so you won’t need your phone either. Much more importantly, it’d allow me to leave my clunky wallet behind that I hate having to carry in my back-pocket. It’s a constant annoyance when I'm sitting, and I’d be glad to get rid of it.
This won’t be as universal for everyone, as it depends on your lifestyle. Samsung Pay doesn’t work with ATMs, so you’ll still need to carry your card around if you tend to withdraw cash frequently. Fortunately, I live a cash-less life for the most part, and visit the ATM roughly once every three months, so it’s not a bother for me. But that may not work for you. For what it’s worth, Samsung Pay already has Paytm support, and UPI is on its way, so you can use those routes if you prefer.
The biggest concern for most seems to be security, but mobile payments can actually be more secure. For one, card skimming isn't possible since you don’t need to physically give your card to anyone, and two, like a chip-and-pin card, Samsung Pay only shares a random token with the reader, not the card number. Plus, it also needs your fingerprint/ PIN for authentication, so you don’t have to worry if your phone gets stolen - although the fact that your phone’s been stolen will still be worrisome.
The other problem with digital payments methods is that support can often be limited. Samsung Pay supports both NFC - which is the common standard for mobile payments - and MST (magnetic secure transmission), which works with most existing card readers, as it emulates the presence of a card by wirelessly transmitting, well, magnetic waves. NFC might be the true future of payments, but it's a future that's still not here, even in places such as the US. Samsung Pay's MST feature is essentially a form of backward compatibility, so you can use this method of payments nearly everywhere, though the people working there might themselves be unaware.
For Samsung, this feature is a fantastic trick up its sleeve, as it gives the Korean company a leg up on its competition. By comparison, the other big two – Apple Pay, and Android Pay – will be limited to NFC-equipped readers even when they do make it to India. Samsung then has a clear advantage in that regard, and one that it can leverage to market its smartphones, and peripherals.